'In that second, I shot him': Navy Seal who killed bin Laden tells of pulling the trigger
However the anonymous shooter also told how his wife and family now live in constant fear for their lives, and have taught their children to hide in the bathtub at the first sign of a reprisal attack.
In an exhaustive 15,000 word account, the unnamed member of Seal Team 6 describes the huge elation — but also the deep personal cost — that came with being the man who fired the fatal shots at the al-Qaeda leader during the raid of May 2, 2011 in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
Others have claimed that they, too, shot bin Laden. However the unnamed Seal told Esquire magazine that although another Seal had fired two speculative shots at the terror leader after he was spotted “peeking around a curtain” of the doorway, it was him alone that fired the fatal shots.
After his colleague had fired, the Seal says he was quickly through the third-floor bedroom doorway and saw bin Laden moving across the room clutching one of his wives and advancing towards his trademark “short” AK47 rifle that was on a shelf.
The Seal stated: “He looked confused. And way taller than I was expecting. He had a cap on and didn’t appear to be hit... He was holding her in front of him. Maybe as a shield, I don’t know.
“For me, it was a snapshot of a target ID, definitely him. Even in our kill houses where we train, there are targets with his face on them. This was repetition and muscle memory. That’s him, boom, done.
“I thought in that first instant how skinny he was, how tall and how short his beard was, all at once. He was wearing one of those white hats, but he had, like, an almost shaved head. Like a crew cut. I remember all that registering. I was amazed how tall he was, taller than all of us...”
The Seal continued: “In that second, I shot him, two times in the forehead. Bap! Bap! The second time as he’s going down. He crumpled onto the floor in front of his bed and I hit him again, Bap! same place,” the Seal said.
“That time I used my EOTech red-dot holo sight. He was dead. Not moving. His tongue was out. I watched him take his last breaths, just a reflex breath.”
The entire episode was over in 15 seconds, he said.
After the shooting, the Seal admitted feeling “stunned” but was jolted back to reality with an order to get down to the other rooms and help other Seals clear out computers and intelligence materials — whereupon he discovering some strange-looking packages.
“At first I thought they were filled with vacuum-sealed rib-eye steaks... Then, wait a minute. This is raw opium... It was pretty funny to see that,” he said.
In training the Seal said that most of his team had presumed that they would die on the mission, writing tearful farewell letters to their children and wives.
The Seal also bought a $350 pair of Prada sunglasses so he could “die with some style on”.
On returning, the soldier handed the magazine from this rifle — minus three bullets — as a souvenir to the female CIA officer (the character played by Jessica Chastain in the film of the raid Zero Dark Thirty) who had been responsible for tracking down bin Laden.
He said: “‘Is that your guy? [Bin Laden]’ she was crying. That’s when I took my magazine out of my gun and gave it to her as a souvenir. Twenty-seven bullets left in it. ‘I hope you have room in your backpack for this.’ That was the last time I saw her.”
The Seal also gives an account of watching the Kathryn Bigelow film and laughing at the unrealistic amount of talking the Seals did during the raid.
He also corrected the story that the raid was delayed by 24 hours because of the weather, when in fact it was because the raid was originally scheduled for the night annual White House Correspondent’s dinner and it was realised that it would look suspicious if many officials had to suddenly leave.
Had the mission gone wrong, the Seal says the original plan was for Vice-President Biden fly to Islamabad and negotiate their release with Pakistan, but that Barack Obama rejected the plan in favour of a military response.
“This is hearsay, but I understand Obama said, ‘Hell no’,” the Seal said. “My guys are not surrendering. What do we need to rain hell on the Pakistani military?”
The interview by Phil Bronstein, the long-time war reporter and former editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, also highlights the psychological price paid by elite special forces and the surprising lack of support they and their families receive after leaving the force.
After the raid, as TV news crews filmed the houses where many Seals lived, the “Shooter” said that he was offered a place in a witness protection programme - driving a beer truck in Milwaukee.
He decided against the offer because “like Mafia snitches” he would lose contact with all his friends and family.
Instead the Seal’s wife — who is separated from her husband, although they continue to share a house for financial reasons - said she has learned to live with the fact that “my family is always going to be at risk”.
The Seal concerned gave the interview only after leaving the service after 16 years, without a pension or healthcare benefits, and depriving his wife of the support network that had helped her cope with life married to a member of the Special Forces.
If something were to happen, the Shooter has instructed her to take the kids to the base gate anyway and demand to see the commanding officer, or someone from the Seal team. “He said someone will come get us,” she said, forlornly.
Peter Foster Telegraph.co.uk